We believe in the enduring world-historical value of the literature, thought, and art of France, Italy, and the wider Francophone and Italophone worlds. We also believe that the cause of diversity and inclusion benefits immeasurably from the acquisition of foreign languages and from the experience of other cultures that foreign languages make possible. But we recognize that, in the United States, access to French and Italian too often depends on—and so is seen by many to be a symptom of—White privilege. It is accordingly our task not simply to create an environment in which everyone of whatever ethnic or racial background will feel both acknowledged and at home. We must in addition find ways to make the experience of foreign languages and cultures available and above all attractive to everyone.
In most disciplines, the answer is as straight forward as it has proved difficult to implement: we need to diversify our student body and faculty, identifying and dismantling the many artificial barriers our society puts in the way of so many. Much of this has to do with creating faculty “pipelines” that genuinely reflect, and celebrate, our real diversity as a nation as well as the contribution the cultures of the French- and Italian-speaking world have made and continuity to make human life and the human spirit. However, for all its diversity, 21st-century America is an increasingly monolingual society focused on the material and technological dimensions of reality: we may accommodate Spanish, for instance, but we do not practice it as one of many national tongues; and in a tuition-driven institution that measures importance in terms of demand, we stray from the university’s underlying liberal arts mission in ways that value natural science, engineering, business, economics, and the professions at the expense of “soft” disciplines like the arts and humanities and the interpretive social sciences—the irony here being that, as a general rule, the arts, humanities, and social sciences like ethnic studies or women and gender studies are far more welcoming to underrepresented populations, and are as a result far more socially and demographically diverse, than “hard-core” alternatives.
The department long ago committed to diversity. Our commitment began in fact back in the 1980s when we incorporated the study of the Francophone worlds of North and West Africa and the Caribbean as a regular part of the undergraduate and graduate curriculum. Our colleagues in Italian side have more recently followed suit with the introduction of courses in Italophone studies; and the department as a whole has accelerated this evolution by heavy multicultural programming that has brought a growing series of French, Italian, African, and Caribbean ethnic and racial activists to campus to talk about everything from Italo-African rap music to documentary filmmakers chronicling the recent surge in immigration across the Mediterranean.
Moreover, over the past 5 years or so, Francophone African studies in particular have shifted toward interest in indigenous decolonial movements and the attendant foregrounding of native languages in dialogue with colonial French. This commitment has also grown to encompass the history and experience of race and racism in France and Italy themselves—a history as old as the languages that communicate it to us and as urgently to be taught as the ever richer contributions that people of African, Arab, Asian, or Haitian descent make to the social and political as well as literary, intellectual, and artistic life of their former colonizers. Francophone and Italophone studies offer the most direct means of increasing inclusiveness at the level of students and faculty alike, and we take pride in the number of graduate students of African descent who have gone on from our doctoral program to academic careers at places like the University of Pennsylvania and Colorado College. But we have also sought authorization to recruit new faculty in fields that embrace the experience of contemporary multi-racial and multi-cultural France and Italy since they offer the best chance of identifying faculty of color, and in particular African Americans. It is noteworthy in this connection that the Black Lives Matter movement has found a powerful echo in the streets of Paris and Rome.
However, by indexing the department’s relevance and success to declining numbers of majors even as overall enrollments remain steady, the university’s understandable emphasis on patterns of student demand shaped by concerns with employment credentialing undermines our position. We accordingly need the university’s active support in order to contribute more fully to its inclusion efforts. The areas in which such support is most needed correlate directly with the main items in the department’s emerging FDAP plan:
- The faculty “pipeline” begins in middle and high school.If fewer and fewer students study foreign languages, the knowledge of German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, and African languages will inevitably remain a matter of social privilege.We would therefore welcome the help of the Admissions Office in visiting middle and high school students both in the region and nationally in order to make the case for the study of foreign languages and cultures.
- We need to be allowed to recruit in the fields of contemporary racial, media, and political culture both to round off our coverage of French and Italian literary, artistic, and intellectual life and to improve our chances of recruiting a more diverse faculty.Please note that this does not replace but rather complements our efforts to identify students and faculty from underrepresented communities interested in more traditional fields. A noteworthy national development has indeed been the degree to which scholars have explored the multi-racial and multi-cultural complexities of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the century of Enlightenment.
- We need to abandon the current A&S General Education program in favor of a genuine Core program, if possible at the campus rather than merely college level.In addition to exposing students more fully and widely to disciplines other than those in which they plan to major, this step would go far toward counterbalancing the privilege the university increasingly awards STEM disciplines and the professions by numerical default.Given moreover that redressing the balance would favor those units in which faculty diversity is already greatest, this step alone would automatically enhance campus inclusion efforts.